Cell Designs Cited in Two Inmate Suicide Cases

Cell Designs Cited in Two Inmate Suicide Cases

Federal report on county’s main lockup examines deaths; suggestions for changes are redacted

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Montgomery County Correctional Facility

Via Department of Correction and Rehabilitation

Updated Tuesday at 9:45 a.m.

A report by the National Institute of Corrections following two inmate suicides last year at the county’s main jail in Boyds has found the design of some cells makes it easier for prisoners to hang themselves.

The report by the National Institute of Corrections was published in December and analyzes the county’s corrections department on 12 factors related to suicide prevention policies, protocols and training.

The assessment, requested by former corrections chief Robert Green following a pair of suicides in 2018, was first reported Monday by WTOP radio, which filed a Public Information Act request and received a redacted version of the report.

Two key sections – one listing suggestions and another offering “closing thoughts” – were blacked out.

County Executive Marc Elrich was given an unredacted copy of the report and released the redacted version, an Elrich spokesman said.

Elrich and the acting corrections director, Angela Talley, could not be reached. Green was recently nominated to lead Maryland’s corrections system.

The two deaths occurred after six years without a suicide, according to the report.

Thierry Nkusu, 35, of Silver Spring, killed himself in July 2018 a few days after he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his pregnant fiancée. Tyler Tessier, 33, of Damascus, killed himself in September hours before he was set to stand trial on charges of murdering his pregnant girlfriend.

Suicides are most prevalent among young males who have been arrested for minor offenses or defendants anticipating a harsh sentence, according to the report.

The federal report said the county’s three detention facilities — Montgomery County Detention Center and Pre-Release Center in Rockville and the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds – all were 100% compliant with Maryland Commission on Correctional Standards.

The facilities received positive reviews on components such as screening detainees, training employees and treatment planning, in large part due to a Clinical Assessment and Transition Services program and a Crisis Intervention Unit, according to the report.

The primary drawback cited in the report is a lack of protrusion-free, suicide-resistant architecture, such as hooks and bed frames where sheets can be tied.

Cells at the detention center and correctional facility have metal bunks welded to the walls, along with metal shelves and desks, according to the report. These features provide points for attaching a sheet that can be used in a hanging.

Both Nkusu and Tessier used bedsheets to hang themselves, leading county prison officials to remove sheets from all cellblocks.

The sheets have not been returned, a county spokesman said. Metal bunks are still in cells except for the rooms in the Crisis Intervention Unit and medical unit.

The two-tiered setup of cells also limits visibility for guards, a factor that can’t be solved by retrofitting them with different furniture, according to the report.

Altering the housing areas may be “cost prohibitive,” according to the report.

Some data in the NIC report came from a report to the County Council last year from the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation on best practices for suicide prevention following Tessier and Nkusu’s suicides.

Before 2018, there hadn’t been a suicide in a county correctional facility since there was one each year from 2009 to 2011 in the county detention center in Rockville.

From 2009 to 2018, the county report also stated that 20,679 inmates in the county’s central processing unit were given a mental health evaluation, which represents about 16% of the total number admitted.

Elrich, as a County Council member last year, chaired the Public Safety Committee and said during a September meeting that he didn’t believe anything could have been done to prevent either of the suicides. He also asked during that meeting whether it might be feasible to place surveillance cameras in jail cells just before the start of a trial.

Council member Sidney Katz, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, said that although the department is under the county executive’s authority, he plans to ask council staff for suggestions on whether additional funding might be necessary.

Elrich has budgeted $70.8 million for the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation in fiscal 2020, an increase of $4 million from this year.

“We certainly fund it [the county jail], so we’ll certainly have to have good dialogue and information to figure out what’s the best and fastest way we can be dealing with this,” Katz said.

Despite the recent incidents, county facilities have fewer suicides than the state and national average.

This story was updated with additional information about the current state of county cells.

Charlie Wright can be reached at charlie.wright@bethesdamagazine.com

Dan Schere can be reached at dan.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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